Sullivans Island Overreacts

February 23, 2012

I am sure all of you dog lovers have recently heard that the Sullivan’s Island town council has unanimously decided to ban dogs from the island’s beaches year-around from 10am-6pm. It was widely publicized and well known that the council was going to review their existing leash law last Tuesday, but that is not what they did. They banned dogs from the beach year around.

Now, I am a huge supporter of leash laws and I strongly support waste control laws. I am even a supporter of restrictions on dogs during hot summer activities. These types of restrictions increase safety for both humans and dogs.

Generally, dogs are banned from beaches for two reasons. One is that people ignore the leash laws and allow their pets to wander, bothering others and creating complaints. The other reason is the waste problem. Deborah Hazen-Martin, of the town’s council, inferred that Sullivan’s Island might even have to close their beaches in the summer if the dog waste problem got any worse.

There are solutions to both of these problems that do not require a total ban of dogs from the beach. Dog friendly beaches and towns throughout the nation have adopted some of the following suggestions.

• Ban dogs during the hottest part of the summer when beaches are the most crowded. Banning dogs from the beach in December in Charleston is ridiculous. Folly Beach has done this successfully, although I would suggest a ban be limited to June, July and August when dogs are most at risk from the heat.
• Ban dogs from certain places on the beach. For example, dogs could be banned between station 19 and 25 during the summer. But, banning dogs from the entire beach is unnecessary. In San Diego there are several sections of beach reserved for dogs and their owners.

• Provide a time when dogs can be allowed off leash. This is one thing Sullivans did right by allowing off leash activities between 5am and 10am.

• Enforce leash laws with hefty fines. The same effort it will take to enforce the ban would result in a rather large income for the city if off-leash owners were fined.

• Enforce waste laws with fines and make it easy to spot and retrieve a bag for waste pick-up. Again, monitor the beaches, post signs, garbage cans and poop-pick up bags at each station. In Jupiter Beach, Florida, a local dog club helps monitor and clean up the beach if needed.

What saddens me immensely is the year-around ban. Dogs on the beach are not a problem when the beaches are devoid of people. May and September are the best months to enjoy a long day of swimming and playing with your dog on an empty beach, and Sullivan’s Island has made this impossible unless you can run home to your house and put your dog back inside before 10am. I suspect that this move was motivated by a lot more than just waste control. It reeks of an attempt to restrict non-resident access to another of our public beaches.

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